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How to build a cross-disciplinary institute: the curious case of the South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Studies

Marten Scheffer, Wageningen University, The Netherlands; South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Studies (SARAS), Uruguay
Nestor Mazzeo, South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Studies (SARAS), Uruguay; CURE, Universidad de la República, Maldonado, Uruguay

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-10983-240234

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Abstract

There is no recipe for setting up a new institute, especially if it is meant to be different from anything that currently exists. Here, we give a look behind the scenes at how we dreamt up the transdisciplinary South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Science (SARAS), located in Uruguay, and how, with help from a network of renowned freethinkers and dedicated doers, we made it happen. Trying to shape the institute over the first decade, we learned 10 important lessons that may be helpful for others in similar situations. (1) Securing a stable budget is essential, but a permanent challenge. (2) Structural international funding for a place-based institute is unlikely. (3) Having the institute outside the formal structure of a university gives liberty, but it is important to nurture good relationships. (4) An informal setting with ample scheduled time for walks, camp fires, and other leisure interactions helps participants build the trust and take the time needed to connect across disciplines and worldviews but can be seen as decadent by outsiders. (5) It is important to build resilience to the occasional reshuffling of cards inherent with government change. (6) It remains difficult for remote international board members to fathom the local dynamics and challenges inherent to running the institute on the ground. (7) Keeping the big idea alive while solving the continuous stream of everyday issues requires a combination of personalities with complementary skills in the dreamer-doer continuum. (8) There is a trade-off in selecting board members because the famous persons needed for credibility and for their extensive networks often have little time to contribute actively. (9) Truly linking science and arts requires long-term interaction between artists and scientists that are personally interested in this enterprise to allow for the necessary building of trust and mutual understanding. (10) A local sense of ownership is essential for long-term resilience.

Key words

art and science; art-science collaboration; institute; resilience; SARAS; South America; sustainability

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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